At some point, most science fiction readers come across the “Big Three” authors from its so-called Golden Age: Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke. Over the course of his lifetime, Clarke witnessed the birth of the space age, and helped push science fiction from a nascent literary movement into a modern vision for humanity’s future with grounded, realistic stories that drew on science and technology—themes that are more relevant than ever today, on the 100th anniversary of his birth.

When Clarke began writing science fiction in the late 1930s, the genre was on the cusp of a major transformation. Up to that point, science fiction stories appeared in cheap pulp magazines, and were often sensational tales featuring murderous robots, outlandish planets, and swashbuckling adventure. As Clarke entered the field, the trend of scientific realism was on the rise, pushed along by editors like John W. Campbell, who ran the magazine Astounding Science Fiction. Clarke, whose writing was grounded in a firm sense reality, found himself at home in this burgeoning movement. His vision for the future set the mold for his many literary heirs, including Alastair Reynolds, James S.A. Corey, and Allen M. Steele.

Born in Minehead, Somerset on December 16th, 1917, Clarke discovered science fiction at a young age, which began his lifelong obsession with space and humanity’s place in it. He built his own telescopes, served as a radar officer during World War II, and in the late 1930s, began writing stories of his own. Clarke funneled his interests in physics and mathematics into his fiction,…